Winds not harnessed: How a slowdown in Germany’s wind power development perpetuated dependence on Russia

Germany’s wind power capacity additions stalled and contracted after 2015, falling far behind the rest of Europe. This was a lost opportunity to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Had the country followed the same trajectory of growth in annual installations as the rest of Europe, installed wind power capacity would have been 32 GW greater at the end of 2021. This additional wind power would have generated more electricity than Germany’s six remaining nuclear power plants in 2021, and replaced more gas than was imported through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in July before the cut-off in late August. Germany would thereby have avoided the consumption of gas with a price tag of 23 billion EUR for the full year of 2022, and reduced its emissions with an amount equivalent to the total CO2 emissions of Switzerland (in 2021). Instead, Germany is entering the first wartime winter in Europe in over 70 years less energy secure than it had reason to be. This political failure requires political action to ensure that energy security in Germany and in Europe will be stronger in the future.

Figure 1. Installation of German wind power capacity accelerated till 2015 before a period of stagnation turned into a clear fall in annual installations after 2017. Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2022.

Policy recommendations

Germany needs large investments in clean energy to reach its climate and renewable electricity targets, ensure low energy prices for consumers and industry, and protect the Bundesrepublik against geopolitical crises as the one Europe is currently experiencing. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has demonstrated clearly that domestic renewable power production is key to reliably keeping the lights on in European households, as the true price of reliance on Russian fossil fuels has proven to be extreme energy costs and a situation where Europe funds Putin’s war. 

However, the German government now wants to change this by increasing Germany’s energy production from renewable sources from 244 TWh in 2021 to between 544 TWh and 600 TWh in 2030. To realise this goal, it’s essential to 

  • accelerate and streamline the permitting processes for new wind farms and transmission lines by simplifying the legal framework for wind power development, implementing strict deadlines, and providing sufficient resources for licensing authorities to fasten their pace;
  • ensure sufficient availability of land, e.g. by setting time-bound targets for land licensing; and
  • promote the upgrading of old wind farms to increase their capacity.

The German government has proposed a new Renewable Energy Act (EEG 2023), a Wind-on-Land-Act dedicating 2% of Germany’s land area to wind power development, and raised its target for offshore wind power capacity. CREA supports the revival of German wind power ambitions as it will contribute to energy security in Germany and across the globe, reduce emissions, and shorten the road to peace in Ukraine.

Andrei Ilas, Guest Writer; Lauri Myllyvirta, Lead Analyst; Meri Pukarinen, Europe-Russia Policy Officer; Lyder Ulvan, Research Assistant.

Europe, Germany